On Monday 23rd January, the RPA hosted its third RPA networking event of the season following the success of events in Exeter and Bristol. The RPA Business Club Networking Evening in partnership with Towergate was held at Franklins Gardens and attended by a host of Saints’ rugby stars as well as an array of businesses from across the country.

The RPA Business Club Networking Evenings are part of The RPA Player Development Programme, which includes a career and education scheme to provide support, advice and guidance to our playing members to assist in preparing for life after rugby. The networking events are designed to give players an opportunity to mix in a business environment and develop contacts while investigating various career paths which will be open to them after rugby.

Having been sent into a panic trying to work out what was meant by “Business Dress” on the invitation, players thankfully dressed slightly smarter than RPA Player Rep Christian Day’s suggestion of “anything but tracksuits!” After a little shoe shuffling in an environment so foreign to their comfort zone of the changing room and training pitch, players broke from their circle and mingled seamlessly with the suited and booted business experts from industries including; Insurance, Coaching and Education, Finance and Investment, Property and Construction, Motoring, Commercial and Marketing, Travel and Recruitment.

With a business degree already to his name, Saints’ fly half Stephen Myler realised this would be the perfect opportunity to explore options available to him: “I was having a chat about some managerial and business services opportunities. It’s just a follow on from my degree really. I’ve got a degree in business studies which is six years old now and has been sitting there not doing a lot, so I’ve been trying to get an understanding of how I can use it or add to it.”

When you are riding the crest of a wave at the top of the Aviva Premiership, rugby is often a player’s sole focus. While rugby needs to be the priority, the RPA Player Development Programme encourages players to put their free time to productive use. This basically means downing the play stations and picking up some useful qualifications, trades or work experience. Some players are taking part in RPA organised courses including plumbing, plastering and cooking, while others are involved in Open University Degree Courses and participating in work experience mentoring schemes with companies such as Aviva.

Myler continued: “It’s just for me to meet some people from the big wide world outside the rugby bubble, because sometimes we’re so shut off from that in the rugby environment. It’s sometimes nice to experience and learn things about business life and hopefully use it in the future. We’re going to need that experience sometime, so why not start now?”

Saints’ winger Paul Diggin who was the club’s leading try scorer in the Heineken Cup last season with 14, attended the RPA Networking Evening to learn more about routes into teaching.

“A night like tonight was a fantastic opportunity to do some networking and it was perfect that some local private schools were here as I want to get into teaching and coaching. Obviously I’m not 21 anymore. I’m a little bit older now and I can’t play rugby forever so it’s time to start planning for life after rugby.”

Networking events aren’t necessarily about finding contacts for the here and now; they are also about building long-term relationships and an on-going plan for how best to reach your final destination. Teaching might be an option in the distant future, but to achieve that aim Diggin will need to start acquiring coaching experience and qualifications sooner rather than later:

“I was talking to Barry Burgess from Bedford School and I learnt all the different ways I can get into it. It would be good to get my foot in the door and do a couple of coaching sessions a week to build up a relationship with the school rather than going into it a bit cold.”

Centre Jon Clarke is interested in a similar profession further down the track: “I’ve spoken to a guy about coaching, school coaching and different ideas so that further down the line when you finally go for an interview you look a lot better and have a good chance. It’s just a case of using our time efficiently because we have a lot of spare time on our hands. I certainly don’t want to retire for a while but it’s a case of using my time efficiently to be prepared for when it does happen.

“The RPA sorted this out for us. Damian Hopley and Matt Allen (former Saints’ centre and now RPA Player Development Manager) who’s our main man for Northampton organised it and got us involved. In the end it’s a good idea and it’s good to get yourself out there and hopefully I’ll learn a few bits.”

Rising Saints’ star Greig Tonks is a perfect example of a player who is balancing his rugby with academic qualifications, keeping one eye on the future. With a degree in economics he’s understandably veering towards the financial world: “Personally I’m looking at financial services, banking and things like that,” he said. “I’m basically looking to go into that sort of area in the long term future when my rugby career comes to an end and there are a lot of companies here like HSBC and tax and accountancy companies so it’s good to speak to them.”

Stephen Myler was noted by Jon Clarke as the most conscientious networker of the crew: “It has to be Mylo,” he said. “He’s brought his little black book with him so he’s taking it very seriously. He’s making notes on everyone, names and everything!” Greig Tonks chipped in: “He likes to make notes; he’s always making notes in meetings and things like that, so he’s pretty keen!” However Myler admitted appearances might be deceptive saying: “Organised?! I’d like to say I’m organised, but I’m just trying to look the part. I’m kind of all the gear no idea really, at least I look good.”

A huge thank you goes to Northampton Saints for hosting the event, to all players and companies who attended and especially to the RPA’s Business Partner, Towergate tlc, for sponsoring this event and for their loyalty to the players over the last ten years.

Gary Rees, Sports Development Director for Towergate tlc highlighted the importance of the event and of Towergate’s partnership with the RPA. “Towergate have been involved with The RPA now for over ten years, and we firmly believe in what The RPA stands for and we’re extremely proud to be part of it. We’ve brought some clients and had the chance meet some of the players as well as some of the other RPA Business Partners. Business is all about relationships and enjoying those relationships and working together to strengthen them, so we’re delighted to be involved.”